During the height of Mayan civilization, it seems that the court of every ruler had for itself a scribe: someone who could record the goings on of the king, write down the local history, and compose messages or important documents. Paintings of scribes from this time depict them as seated cross-legged on the floor, wearing a short kilt, a headpiece, and holding a pile of brushes, ready to write.
Court scribes would have been men of very high rank – well educated, with noble families in positions of power. Primarily, they were responsible for glorifying the king’s accomplishments through art and literature, and many of these pieces were used as public displays to strike awe into the hearts of the people – if one was to compare a Mayan scribe’s job with a modern career, he could be likened to a professional propagandist.
Though they lived in the lap of luxury for most of their lives, the downside of being a Mayan scribe came during times of war – after all, if the enemy can capture someone who has spent a great deal of time in the king’s court, hearing all of his strategies and plans, what better target than a royal scribe? In addition, any scribe who had devoted his life to another ruler’s glorification certainly wasn’t going to be of any use to an enemy king… and so, since Mayans could always use another excuse for a public spectacle, the attacking tribe would humiliate the scribe in a public ceremony, first mutilating him amidst the cheers of the watching crowd, leading toward his execution. One of the favored methods of torture was breaking a scribe’s fingers and tearing out his fingernails, though cutting the fatty pads of flesh off the fingers to the bone was also an option.
Although it may seem more viable for an enemy king to have simply retrained captured scribes and forced their allegiance, it was likely that the king would have had many of his own scribes already, and simply not needed the services of another. In addition, it also wasn’t unusual for a scribe to be related to the defeated king in some capacity or another, which would have made any forced allegiances questionable at best.
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Tomorrow: Ancient CSI: New Mexico
In April 2007, archaeologists uncovered the buried bones of 24 Pre-Columbian Mexican children – members of the ancient Toltec people who lived in Mexico from the 10th to 12th centuries AD. The bones were dug up at the ancient Toltec capital of Tula, and markings on the bones indicated that the children had been decapitated in a group and then buried together. Initial speculation is that this find may be evidence for child sacrifice among the Toltecs.
The Toltec civilization is best known for its fifteen-foot high stone warrior figures, though little about these people can currently be stated with certainty, because the Aztecs later plundered the ruins of Tula for building materials. Much of the historical evidence that might have otherwise survived was destroyed, causing historians to rely mostly on legends from other cultures to piece together Toltec history.
It is thought that the Toltec culture was highly militaristic, and much like the later Aztecs, used their military might to dominate the surrounding cultures. The Toltec architecture that remains has a very rough feel, and is characterized by snakes, skulls, and images of a reclining red jaguar, as well as their mysterious colossal statues.
The Toltec empire lasted until the 12th century, when it was conquered and destroyed by other encroaching cultures such as the Chitimecs. The Toltecs that survived in the south would be assimilated with the Maya – the very people that had once been subjugated by the Toltecs themselves. Shortly after the fall of Toltec civilization, central Mexico entered a period of chaos and warfare, and no group would rise to domination for another 200 years. Not surprisingly, the group who eventually assumed control was that of the Aztecs.
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Tomorrow: The real “Lost World”
The word ‘chocolate’ is derived form the ancient Nahuatl language of the Mexican Aztecs, combining the words for ‘bitter’ and ‘water’ to make xocolatl. This name was formed because, long before Nestle developed its powdered form in a can, the ancient Aztecs were drinking hot chocolate in 1200 AD. But even before that, the Mayans had their own chocolate fetish…
2000 BC: the cocoa bean, from which chocolate is made, is reported to have originated in the Amazon.
600 AD: the Mayans migrate to South America and establish the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan, though they may have been familiar with the plant several centuries earlier – chocolate residue from an ancient Maya pot suggests they were drinking chocolate at this time.
There also appears to be evidence that the Mayans believed several of their goddesses functioned as guardians of cocoa, and would perform annual human sacrifices for these goddesses – ironically, giving the victim cocoa as his final meal.
1200 AD: the Aztecs attributed the creation of the cocoa plant to the god Quetzacoatl, who stole a cocoa tree from Paradise and traveled to earth with it on a beam of the Morning Star. The Aztecs believed their ancestors then learned how to roast and grind the cocoa beans, creating a paste that could be mixed with water to create a bitter drink. This drink allegedly brought wisdom and knowledge to the drinker.
The Aztecs also believed that this drink could fight fatigue, which can likely be attributed to the theobromine content. The Aztec emperor Montezuma allegedly drank his chocolate dyed red, and it was served in golden goblets that were thrown away after only one use!
Cocoa beans were also used for currency; after subjugating other tribes, the Aztecs would demand their tribute payment in cocoa beans. Records from 1200 AD provide a list of the annual payments being made to the Aztecs – and by this time, payments were coming from nearly all the tribes in Mexico.
It was not until the early 1500s that chocolate, in its sweetened form, became known to the general public… and so, chocolate mania spread across Europe!
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Tomorrow: Toltec child sacrifice?